Category Archives: general

Thoreau on poverty

There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root, and it may be that he who bestows the largest amount of time and money on the needy is doing the most by his mode of life to produce that misery which he strives in vain to relieve. -Henry David Thoreau

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Glenn Beck vs John Stewart

A thought occurred to me the other day. Beck and Stewart are like artists painting their worldviews on the canvas of other people’s minds. When assessing their work it is helpful to keep in mind at least two things

1. Who is the intended audience?
2. What are they intending to convey?

In Stewart’s case, he is simply rehashing the favored prevailing worldview (or hodge podge thereof) of the day.

In Beck’s case, he is attempting to warn others, often times against the wisdom of the prevailing worldview, of dangers he perceives.

Stewart’s agenda is simply to make money by sailing the cultural current. Beck wants to divert the current.

When you want to tell people that everything is fine, you use humor. When you want to warn others of impending danger, you use fear.

That said, I too find his choice of colors and subjects to be disturbing. I don’t disagree with the premises and conclusions in his work, but I do find his paintings to be aesthetically unappealing.

Artistically Stewart is superior, there is a lot of competition in the marketplace of his intended audience. Beck, on the other hand has very small audience with very little competition. So its little wonder, really, that Beck is as bad a painter as he is. And its frustrating when people compare Beck and Stewart.

That’s like comparing Rembrandt to a 4 year old.

Book review: Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte

I’ve been fascinated with Gilbert Keith Chesterton for quite a while. But the most I’d known of him before now had been his memorable quotations. So when I signed up to review books through BookSneeze.com, I jumped at the chance to review Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton by Kevin Belmonte.

Kevin does a good job of providing a high-level overview of GK Chesterton though a survey of his works. The book begins with a telescopic view of Chesterton’s family and early life and quickly moves into G.K.’s literary career.

Kevin uses the timeline of Chesterton’s life to introduce us to Chesterton’s work which he quotes from at length. And his contemporaries, which he also quotes from at length. Kevin also paints a compelling portrait of a devout Christian who thoughtfully and respectfully engaged some of Christianity’s most ardent critics like George Bernard Shaw and H.L. Mencken.

Kevin describes how Gilbert Keith Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw were at once close friends and bitter ideological opponents. We are given a glimpse of this complex relationship through Kevin’s liberal use of primary sources like letters between the two over the course of Chesterton’s life.

Kevin does a good job of introducing us to some of Chesterton’s more influential works. This is achieved, though, through copious use of block quotations which make the book a chore to read. By the end of the book I was inspired to read some of Chesterton’s works in full on my own, and felt as though I already had read much of them from the number and size of quotations Kevin uses. I was also inspired to find additional resources featuring Chesterton’s work, like the Orson Welles production of The Man Who Was Thursday.

Overall I wouldn’t consider this book to be the easiest in the world to read. Or the best when it comes to depth of research. At best it is a Frankenstein of other works. I’m not sure if I would recommend this book to anyone, even a Chesterton novice like myself.

 

Additional resources:

How should Christians relate with the culture around them?

Bruce Little – 20/20 Collegiate Conference 2011 – Session 5 from Southeastern Seminary on Vimeo.

How many churches are there?

Have you ever wondered exactly how many churches are in an area? I have often wondered that so recently I undertook the task of collecting a record of churches in Georgia1, about 10,000 total, and plotting them out in a heat map.

Click here to see the result.2

I’ll continue to develop this visualization to make it more useful and interactive. If you are interested in helping out or have any suggestions, questions, or comments feel free to contact me. If you want to donate to this project in order to see it expand (hosting is cheap but not free), feel free to send a donation.


  1. Data collected from Yahoo’s local search service via YQL. So blame data discrepancies on them. []
  2. Site uses a lot of experimental technology and is known to work best in Google Chrome. If you experience any difficulties please let me know. []

Only the gay die young?

In late March, 2007, a spate of articles and news releases were released from Drs. Paul and Kirk Cameron purporting to demonstrate that the life expectancy of homosexuals is 20 to 30 years lower than that of straights. Behind this flurry of activity was a poster session presented at the March, 2007 Eastern Psychological Association convention in Philadelphia.

This is part of the introduction of “An exchange between Warren Throckmorton, Morten Frisch, Paul Cameron and Kirk Cameron
regarding the lifespan of homosexuals.”

In it, the often criticized methods of Drs. Paul and Kirk Cameron are discussed. Specifically the objection given by Morten Frisch:

Since, as noted, age is a strong determinant of openness about homosexuality, the study groups of deceased homosexuals in Cameron and Cameronís report were severely skewed towards younger people. Consequently, the much younger average age at death of these openly homosexual people as compared with the average age at death in the unselected general population tells nothing about possible differences between life expectancies in gays and non-gays in general. All it reflects is the skewed age distribution towards younger people among those who are openly homosexual.

Paul Cameron responds with a couple of points:

  • it has been shown that homosexuals are more likely to respond to surveys

    Further, in that study, analysis of the patterns of missing answers among respondents showed that those with homosexual interests were more, and not less, likely than those with only heterosexual interests to respond to questions about sexually non-conforming behavior.

  • no one, on either side of the issue,

    knows for sure how often people deliberately lie when they respond to sex surveys, or how many individuals simply refuse to respond in order to hide their sexual preferences. We also donít know whether refusals of that particular sort are more common among the older. All we know is that several well-funded research teams have not found many differences along behavioral dimensions ó including items about sexuality between the first responders and those who eventually responded after repeated visits or call-backs.

  • the death of older homosexuals would be difficult to simply cover up. But even so, no one can know this with any certainty either.

    It was partly because of the uncertainties in self-report that we decided to examine other kinds of data. Obviously, obituaries depend upon human reporting but are not ‘self-reports.’ To keep oneís past sexual behavior secret after death can be difficult unless no one else knows, presumably even oneís own partners. As Ben Franklin wisely said, ìthree can keep a secret, but only if two of them are dead.î Again, neither Dr. Frisch nor anyone else knows whether in fact the older are disproportionately less often represented than the young among obituaries in gay newspapers.

  • the report also used data from public records

    That is why it is of more than passing scientific interest that three rather different sources and kinds of data ó sex surveys, obituaries, death registries all indicate fairly similar declines in homosexual prevalence with age.

Its interesting to also note that Dr Frisch apparently mentioned “in an email that no more than 5% of Danish gays take advantage of the marriage laws there.”

In his response, Warren Throckmorton cites the following report

In a major Canadian centre, life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 20 years less than for all men. If the same pattern of mortality were to continue, we estimate that nearly half of gay and bisexual men currently aged 20 years will not reach their 65th birthday. (Hogg et al, 1997, from the abstract)

There is a lot more in the paper, and I highly encourage anyone interested in engaging others in a rational discussion regarding homosexuality to read it. One thing to note, however, is that all sides agree “that there may some difference in life span”. The only difference seems to be that those who are sympathetic towards the homosexual agenda are unwilling to speculate on how much that difference is.

The poverty of the 5 senses

Materialists are fond of claiming that all of our knowledge comes to us through our 5 senses.

Supernatural is above or beyond nature. Any belief in a realm that isn’t knowable though our 5 senses. Or al least able to use a provable method of advanced conceptualizing that ties back to our senses and is consistent with everything else that is known to exist in the natural universe. Mysticism is the opposite. It claims that our 5 senses are inadequate to no truth or reality. this effectively removes responsibility from the individuals and places it in the hands of the elite. Who have some secret magical method of understanding truth. It is a winning strategy for those who desire power, who feel small in stature and intentionally or not, foster the powerlessness of their flock.

-Dan Barber

This position raises two questions in my mind:

  1. Through our 5 senses, how do we gain awareness of ourselves? Our own thoughts, feelings, desires, etc.? It seems that introspection is not something we engage in with our 5 senses.
  2. How can we be sure that there is nothing outside the realm of or epistemic faculties? It seems that microscopes of all kinds provide evidence that our epistemic faculties aren’t perfect, that there is more about our world that we wouldn’t know without external help.

Dan answers:

A microscope is an extension of sight. Not a replacement for it. We do imagine with our brain. That is what intospection is. And it is an evolved ability that probably came about as we learned to hurl an object for hunting. Or swing from vines. To predict an outcome in the future.

Microscopes and other instruments give us reason to believe that information exists outside the reach our natural epistemic resources. That’s not to say that this information is unknowable, just that we may need help knowing what a cell looks like.

Additionally, It seems that the introspection required to envision a tool like a microscope came not from the realm of 5 senses, but from somewhere else. Before it existed, where did the vision come from and where did it reside? Are we to suppose the physical brain randomly concocted it out of thin air?

I suppose the real question here is: Why should we think that physical matter is all that exists?

It is absolutely amazing how the human mind decides what it wants to see as real and then finds the evidence for such a conclusion. Deductive vs. Inductive reasoning. Inductive is the method i use to counter act my own irrationality in this realm.

So the final question for materialists is this. When you reason, be it inductively or deductively, which of the 5 senses are you using?

The goal of argument

Our goal should not to merely win arguments, but to gain a more clear understanding of what is true so that we can orient our lives accordingly. An exclusive interest in winning arguments would only serve to reinforce a sort of intellectual inbreeding1 and, as such, serve no real productive purpose.

I am sure I hold false beliefs, given that I am a finite being who is not endowed with omniscience. The trouble is that I do not know what of my beliefs are false. In order to know that I must be confronted with evidence and arguements.

Keep in mind, however, that beliefs are not given up easily (nor should they be) so I will necessarily strain my presently held beliefs to their breaking points before trading them for something else.

I would also wager that my attitude is not particularly unique, which is why I expect and welcome strong resistance. In fact, to paraphrase a friend of mine: I believe that growth is fostered through the managed conflict of ideas.

Afterall, what’s the use in building beliefs on a weak, untested foundation?

  1. I am indebted to Matthew DeLockery for this phrase. []

How bad preaching leads to financial ruin

We know one church whose membership included several chartered accountants. Not surprisingly, they were all placed on the church finance committee. But after the church went through the study Experiencing God, the entire committee resigned. They announced, “The church asked us to serve on the finance committee because our training is in finance. But we have been trained to take a conservative approach to budgeting. Our education has predisposed us to avoid walking by faith. Yet God says without faith, it is impossible to please him.” The committee suggested that rather than only enlisting accountants to serve on the finance committee, the church should should primarily find people who knew how to walk by faith. -God in the Market Place, pg 208

In this passage, Henry Blackaby advocates ignoring sound financial advice in favor of “walking by faith”, which apparently means abdicating your God-given faculties of reason.

The problem with teaching like this, however, is that it leads to churches pretending like they are exempt from market forces. This leads to churches overextending themselves financially, taking on massive amounts of debt because they feel like God is leading them to grow bigger and bigger.

But, as an atheist friend of mine once asked, “What happens to the faith of congregation when the financial windfall they were expecting to help them cover their bases never materializes?

Related articles:

Blind guides: What professional church leaders think about members who ask questions

In a recent Baptist Press article titled “When people criticize church leadership”, Thom Rainer took on the task of addressing why it is that

The level and frequency of criticisms toward pastors and other leaders has increased significantly in the past several years.

Thom’s observations begin with:

First, the standards of church membership have been low in many churches for many years. As a consequence our churches have more and more unregenerate members. Frankly, I would be not be surprised if some of the most vitriolic criticisms come from those who are not Christians.

I’ve heard this line of reasoning offered by several professional pastors so its hardly surprising that Thom would offer this as his initial point. What is surprising is the amount of arrogance required to sustain such a position. Who is Thom or anyone else to call into question anyone else’s commitment to Christ? Oh sure, we could if the person in question fit any of the Biblical criteria for doing so, but as far as Thom is concerned, merely asking questions is enough grounds to call into question one’s salvation.

Second, church members have been unwilling to take a stand when they see and hear unwarranted criticism toward the pastor and other leaders. This silence is shameful and sinful. Belligerent critics remain critics often because other church members are fearful of rebuking them. In some ways, the silent majority is just as wrong as the constant critics.

I’m not sure what churches Thom has been to, but in my experience quite the opposite is true. A member of the congregation is expected to face considerable odds if they wish to even raise a question regarding their pastor or leadership. And when they do, there is an inevitable wall of deacons and other groupies that usually descend on them like jackals to corral them back into line. This is what most pastors consider “unity”.

The first seven verses of Acts 6 tell the story of complaining by a group in the early church. In this case, the concern was warranted because a group of widows was being neglected. The Twelve appointed seven men to take care of the widows and thus, stopped the criticisms.

Though it may not be the central thrust of the text, we see clearly that a divided and critical congregation was a serious concern for early church leaders. The ministry had to continue, and the divisiveness had to stop. We also see that the entire congregation had a stake in this issue (verse 5, “The proposal pleased the whole company”). There was no sinful and silent majority unwilling to tackle this issue.

This exposes a common trait among professional church leaders. Thom assumes here, with admittedly no Biblical support, that the primary focus of church life is on the leaders. So much for that whole bit about the greatest being servants and all that jazz. No sir, that’s not the sort of stuff that will allow pastors to build massive churches based off of the tax free donations of others.

At least in principle, the solutions are simple. The standards of church membership must be held high, and the benefits are numerous beyond just dealing with critics. We can’t expect unregenerate church members to act like Christians.

Apparently regenerate church members are people who don’t cause any waves. They don’t ask questions. In fact, the really regenerate church members are barely distinguishable from zombies.

Its little wonder that churches today are bleeding members left and right. Or that the average “regenerate” church member is unable to answer even the mildest challenge to their faith.

Second, church members must be willing to confront the sinful behavior of the perpetual and ill-intentioned critics. While no church leader should be above legitimate criticisms, the tide has turned too far in the other direction. Criticisms are paralyzing too many good leaders.

Its fascinating that Thom spends so much time assuming that the bulk of criticisms are illegitimate and yet provides no concrete basis on distinguishing between the two. In fact, Thom’s remaining article addresses how to throw out what he considers to be threats to the church business. Little, if any, consideration is given to the question of how we are to tell if the pastor and leaders is wrong and what to do if they are.

My guess is that this omission is due to the underlying assumption of most pastors that they are “god’s men” and have somehow been rendered infallible (likely by their supposed special calling and subsequent ordination into the ‘priesthood’).

Even though Thom’s article is almost 100% wrong, it is useful in pointing out one thing. I believe the attitude Thom displays here is a large reason why men like myself steer clear of most institutional churches as much as we can.

Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit. -Matthew 15:14